Law firms have always been slow to change. That's a fact. Back in the days when computers were just coming about, lawyers felt they didn't want them because it would interfere with billable time. Fast forward several years later, and law firms did not want to send their documents to outside vendors because they wanted to keep the documents close to them – even if they never visited the vendor who was processing the data. Oh, yes! This actually was the way of things.
Many of you have found that working remotely is fantastic – much more so than you thought it would be. There are a number of reasons including work/lifestyle balance, working hours that are good for you, childcare issues resolved, commute time non-existent, opportunity to live somewhere completely different, and more. However, while law firms are actually seeing positive results, many are stuck in the traditional way of doing things and may insist that you return to the office. That's really not forward thinking.
What if you are in a firm that insists you need to return to the office and now, that is not going to make you happy. What if you are seeking a new position and could easily perform the duties right from home but the potential employer doesn't see it your way? Let's face it. Many law firms are going to take some convincing.
Prior to Covid19, law firms viewed working remotely as a perk, not a privilege. Before the pandemic, many firms viewed a desire to work from home coming from someone who did not want to work hard – a person who was not driven. Now, I imagine that working from home will actually be offered as an enticement to work for the firm. Imagine: the firm wants to hire you and says, "This job calls for working remotely at least two days a week. Oh, you want more? How about 4 days a week?" Yep, they are going to start using it as a negotiating tool.
One of the biggest changes is that remote work tends to shift work relationships from numbers of hours worked to specific goals being met. The reality of most remote work is that you generally put in more hours than you would in the office, but many of those hours are generally not “butts in seats” hours. Employees tend to work until the project is done, rather than have to get up from their desk and leave because it is quitting time. Put another way, once you go remote, then you escape a pervasive fiction: you are only productive when you are on premises.
Since remote work is beginning to shift from a privilege, a novelty, or a perk for special circumstances to a basic right given to employees with jobs not requiring a physical presence, it's time to speak up and ask for what you deserve — the autonomy to choose where you are most productive. After all, you know yourself better than anyone, so if you can choose a schedule and location that work for you and remain present and productive, why should it matter where that is? Right now, RV's are the hottest thing going. Why? Because people realize they can work from anywhere. It doesn't have to be from home.
But what if the firm doesn't see it your way? Now is the time to start educating the firm about the benefits to both the firm and the employee to allow remote work. You may be asking, "How do I do that?"
Here 's how to make the case:
1. First, be sure that you have the temperament and strong desire to make this a permanent situation. Before talking to your boss about your aspirations to work remotely full-time, spend time thinking about the primary reasons you want to work remotely, and what remote work would look like in your role.
If you want to work remotely to achieve a better work-life balance, think about what your ideal level of work-life balance is. If you want to work remotely to reduce time spent commuting, think about what you'd rather be doing with that time. Additionally, think about the challenges you currently face in your role that could be improved or exacerbated by working away from the office, and what solutions you could proactively present when your boss inevitably asks you follow-up questions about what having you work remotely would look like.
2. Offer to work remotely on a trial basis. Nothing works better than to present change in the framework of an "experiment". If you present your case as an experiment, no one fails, no one has mud on their face. It's the experiment that fails, not you, not your boss. Set a time frame such as 3 months and evaluate your progress on a regular basis.
3. Frame the conversation with the benefit for the firm in mind. You want to provide quality work and need quiet space to do your best work. Most likely, the firm cannot imagine how this would work on a continuing basis. It was one thing in an emergency situation such as the Corona virus but to continue it may be unthinkable. They want things back the way they were. Change, to many people, is dreadful.
4. Explain your remote office situation. Is it at home or at a co-shared space? Discuss how you will handle firm materials and assets in a responsible and secure way. Share a picture of what your work space would look like so they can picture you working.
5. Establish the hours you will be working and when you can be reached via phone. Some companies actually have software that counts the keystrokes and penalizes you if there are not enough keystrokes in any given hour. (I mean, what about bathroom breaks?) This type of micro-management is for the birds. Gain trust from your employer by meeting deadlines and being available during working hours.
6. Working from home will be a major shift for older firms. It may be helpful to discuss your proposal with HR and other managers. Were you successful during the pandemic? Was the firm pleased with your work? Point that out. Show them several difficult projects that were successfully accomplished by working remotely.
7. Put the benefits in a written plan. It will show them that you really thought this out and are prepared. Some of the benefits would be:
a. The firm does not have to incur the overhead expense an on-site employee requires. That includes office space, equipment, furniture, phones, computers, break room goodies, office supplies, and more.
b. If your firm wants hard data, show them the research on the success of working remotely. You can also share the results of a 2-year Stanford study by professor Nicholas Bloom in this 2017 TEDx talk. His research showed that remote workers were more productive and they worked longer. Their employee attrition was 50 percent less than telecommuters. In addition, the company benefited from needing less office space.
c. It may also reduce the overall security risks that a firm faces by cutting down on physical access to facilities, which still accounts for the largest proportion of data breach operations. That it cuts down on traffic times in areas that are increasingly gridlocked due to commuter traffic is an added bonus.
d. Studies show that employees worked longer, were more productive and were less likely to leave. Luckily, remote working is becoming the norm and these kinds of requests should no longer require negotiating with such lengthy detail.
e. The open space concept doesn't work. Research from the University of California, Irvine backs this up. Employees were too distracted in an open office environment. The study showed it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to a task after a distraction. Think about how many distractions you face in a day. Then consider how many people are wearing headphones in the office — there goes collaboration and communication.
f. Research shows that:
- Companies that allow remote work hire new employees 33% faster than those who do not.
- Companies can save up to $2,500 or more per year per remote employee.
- Employees can expand working hours for support or to meet critical court deadlines when the firm recruits a remote workforce around the world.
- Employees are more likely to stay at a company that has a flexible remote work policy.
- Companies can expand their talent pool globally.
- Employees who work remotely are 24% happier.
g. It used to be that any face-to-face meeting would be preceded by an hour spent at the copier, making copies of papers and presentations for all of the participants. Today, many office printers go days or even weeks without seeing use, while most documents are available via a link. At last! Here comes the paperless office. This same process is removing the need for printing and signing contracts.
h. We’re even getting to the stage where the process of setting up meetings is more efficiently done online. It's faster, easier to attend, does not cost to fly someone in or take the commute time that would have been necessary.
How you can get set up to work remotely on a permanent basis:
- Be sure to add video conferencing links to all of the meetings on your calendar.
- Have a way for people to get on your calendar. A program such as Calendly or others work well.
- Set meeting agendas for team meetings and be sure to share them with attendees in advance.
- Make sure you really know how to look like a "star" when video conferencing. That means looking professional at all times; knowing how to look into the camera; having a background behind you that is not messy or too "homey".
- Set your working hours on your calendar and other internal communication tools your team uses so everyone knows when you can be reached.
It's a whole new world out there. If you haven't realized it yet, the workplace will never be the same. It's time to ride the horse in the direction it is going! If working remotely is for you, go for it. Right now, if you look on the job boards, you will see an uptick in the jobs that are endorsing remote work. I am not encouraging you to leave your current position but as you all know, I am a big advocate of loving the job you have. It's the least we can do for ourselves. Really, it is.
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Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org.